a radical change of mind

man praying

“You’ve heard it said….  But I say….” we hear our Lord proclaim over and over in the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus reinterprets.  He reforms.  He reprioritizes.  “I know that you’ve heard it this way….”  “I know that human nature says to respond like this….”  “I know that you bring your own presuppositions to the table….”  “I know this is the way that you once thought of things… but now, things are different.”

Jesus steps into our world and transforms our thinking, our ideologies, our worldviews, our way of life.

Here’s a tough one He tackles: “Love your enemies.”  “You’ve heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44).

Love your enemies!?  I have a hard enough time getting along with my friends!  Pray (bless) those who persecute you!?  Are you serious?

And it’s an active love for our enemies.  And it’s a very tall order!  More than just a passive bearing of persecution or hatred.  Loving them.  Blessing them.  Doing good to them.  For them.  Regardless of who they are or what they’ve done.

In this and in countless other ways Jesus calls for a radical paradigm shift.  A radical change of mind.  A change of perspective.  A change of heart.

We see Jesus exemplify His own teaching as He prays for God to forgive those who are responsible for His death (Luke 23:34).  But what about we who are ultimately those who are responsible because of our sin?

The Apostle Paul connects the dots for us: But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him!  For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!  Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:8-11).

You see while we were still enemies of God, Christ died on our behalf.

“Love your enemies.”  It’s one of those areas of the Gospel and one of those areas of our life and faith that we would just as soon ignore.  It’s about a radical change of mind.  From a mindset that is worldly to one that is of the Kingdom.  It’s about seeing the potential for the magnificent impact of the Gospel of Jesus in the most unlikeliest of places.  Just like God saw it in you, and in me.

Glory to God!

Jason

humility and discipleship

crown of thorns

One quality that really impresses God (and it’s not a very long list) is humility.  Humility is one of those things that just when you think that you’ve got it, you don’t.  And it’s one of those qualities of Jesus that is most evidenced in the lives of those who are genuinely seeking to imitate Him.

Jesus is fully God.  He steps into the world as Immanuel “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).  In Colossians the Apostle Paul is writing to address issues that have arisen in the church in which some are questioning the deity of Christ.  He affirms, “God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him (Christ), and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things” (Colossians 1:19-20a).

And yet he “emptied Himself” and became “obedient to death, even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:7-8).  And for this reason we are called to have the very same attitude and mindset as that of Christ Jesus (v5).

Jesus always goes about being “God with us” from a position of humility.  It’s never a power play with Jesus.  The only One who actually has the right to demand everything from a position of power because of who He is, comes to serve and comes to show us what true love and humility look like.

Too often we’re not enough like Jesus.  We manipulate.  We force.  We coerce.  That’s not Jesus….

Jesus’ call upon our lives is if we want to be His disciples we must first deny ourselves.  And I believe humility plays a crucial role.

Jesus never forces Himself on anyone.  “Do you want to be my disciple?  Take up your cross and follow me,” He says.  “Do you want to come and learn and share and be a part of the bigger picture and the things that I am about in the Kingdom?  Good.  Follow me.”  Discipleship is a choice.  Following Jesus is a choice.  And humility is a choice.

When you are full of yourself, God cannot fill you.  Only when we empty ourselves can our God fill us.  Only when we empty ourselves of all pride and all arrogance and all selfishness… only when we “humble ourselves before the Lord” can He then lift us up (James 4:10).

Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit… (Matthew 5:3).”

Maybe that’s a good place for us to start.

Glory to God!

Jason

scattering darkness

light, darkness

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. God called the light ‘day,’ and the darkness He called ‘night.’ And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day” (Genesis 1:1-5).

“God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness.”

From the beginning of time. From Creation. From the word “go” (literally). Light is separated from darkness. They are opposed to one another. Where one is present the other is not.

The Apostle John proclaims, “God is light, in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5b). Christ boldly declares, “I AM the Light of the World” (John 8:12). And in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls us to be spiritual light in a spiritually dark world: “You are the light of the world!” (Matthew 5:14).

We are called to be light. Light in a world of darkness. Why is it that we so often toy with darkness? Why is it that we too often concede and rationalize and justify any relationship with spiritual darkness? With that which is spiritually opposed to the God we serve?

The Apostle Paul writing of the spiritual tempo of our lives asks, “What fellowship does light have with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14b). Light and darkness are enemies. The presence of one defies the presence of the other. How is that we can so easily walk out of spiritual light and into darkness? Is our faith so shallow?

In Ephesians 2:8 he asserts, “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” He doesn’t even say, “We were once in darkness, but rather we were darkness.” Outside of God. Outside of His light. But in Christ Jesus, our reality has radically changed.

Colossians 1:13 declares, “He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the Kingdom of the Son He loves.”

John affirms our calling in Christ and challenges that if we “claim to have fellowship with God and yet walk (live) in darkness we lie and do not live by (in) the truth” (1 John 1:6).

The call is just that. To accept and live into the calling that we have in this life in Christ Jesus to be light in a spiritually dark world. A city on a hill that cannot be hidden (Matthew 5:14). A lamp on a stand that gives light to all (Matthew 5:15).

Where there is light, darkness scatters. In our lives and in the lives of those we influence to the glory of the God we serve.

Glory to God!

Jason

leaving the curtain torn

Cross of Salvation

“From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ – which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’….  And when Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, He gave up His spirit. At that moment the curtain of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Matthew 27:45-51).

From noon until 3pm, during the time of day when the sun is at its peak, darkness covers the planet, representative of course of the sin that Jesus bore on the cross.  At 3pm Jesus cries out in the words of Psalm 22, a Psalm of anguish and a Psalm of victory. Jesus cries out again and gives up His spirit, meaning, He chooses to die.  And “at that moment the curtain of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”

Here’s my question: How long was the curtain allowed to be torn?

Have you ever thought about that?  How long was the curtain allowed to be torn by the religious aristocracy? To the Jews who accepted Christ the tearing of the curtain meant no more obstruction, no more barrier between them and God.  To the Gentile it meant there was access granted to the One, True Living God that they had never known before. As believers today through this reality of 2000 years ago we recognize that we have access to the very presence of God and are ushered in to His glory through the sacrifice (and resurrection) of Jesus. But what about the Jews whose applecart had been upset?  Those who wanted everything to stay the same?  What about those “devout” Israelites who thought that they had the market cornered on God? What about the watchdog Pharisees who saw this as a threat to what was “right” and “proper”?

What do you suppose they did about the torn curtain?  The “veil that was rent” (to quote from the good king James)? Maybe they wrote it off as caused by the earthquake.  But Temple worship in Jerusalem continued another 40 years (until its destruction in AD 70). Did they leave the curtain torn do you think?  I bet not. Although well-intentioned, I would imagine they very quickly sewed it shut (or replaced it altogether). There’s no biblical or even extra-biblical evidence to support that notion.  But I just don’t see them leaving the curtain torn.  Do you?

Here’s my point: In Christ, God has unequivocally removed every hindrance from our living in His presence.  Right? And so why can’t we just leave it that way?

Glory to God!

Jason

the carpenter’s son

carpentry tools“When Jesus had finished these parables, He moved on from there.  Coming to His hometown, He began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed.  ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?’ they asked.  ‘Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?  Isn’t His mother’s name Mary, and aren’t His brothers James, Simon, and Judas?  Aren’t all His sisters with us?  Where then did this man get all these things?’  And they took offense at Him.  But Jesus said to them, ‘Only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honor.’  And He did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith” (Matthew 13:53-58).

It seems to me that God has a pretty hard time with leaving things alone.  We need not look any further than the sun as it sets and rises again or the seasons as they change and cycle to recognize that the Heavenly Father is constantly creating, intentionally changing, cognitively metamorphosizing (not a real word, but it works) the world around us.

Is it not the same with us?  As we willingly grant the Father creative license He changes us, molds us, shapes us, more into the image of Christ.  More into who He desires for us to be.  More into who we are created to be.

I wonder if that might not be a small part of why He chose for His Son to grow up as the son of a carpenter?  As one who creates.  One who repairs.  One who carefully crafts.  As through the carpenter’s son, He continues to create and repair and carefully craft today.

“I pray that the eyes of your heart would be opened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and His incomparably great power for us who believe.  That power is like the working of His mighty strength” (Ephesians 1:18-19).

Glory to God!

Jason

a few steps away

francis of assisi

Soon after Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) turned his back on his life of wealth and chose to live a life of poverty and simplicity he encountered a man with leprosy outside of the city.  We would expect he stopped to see if he could care for his needs.  However, that was not the case.  The story is told that as Francis saw the man, he averted his eyes, walked around him, and completely avoided any contact.

He had very recently, swore allegiance not only to live a life of poverty and a life of simplicity, but to love and care for others.  To wholeheartedly follow the way of Jesus and to reveal the Jesus Way in all facets of life.  To be committed beyond what was “required.”  But somehow, he avoided the possibility as soon as it arrived.

But the story doesn’t end there.  After wrestling within himself, with his actions (and lack thereof), Francis turned around, went back to the leper, embraced him in the name of Jesus, saw to his needs, and then continued on his way.

After a taking a few steps away from the leper, Francis turned to see him again, but the man had disappeared.  He was nowhere to be found.  For the rest of his life, as he would retell the story, Francis was convinced that the man he had embraced and cared for and almost missed, was Jesus.

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go and visit you?’  The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me’” (Matthew 26:37-40).

Glory to God!

Jason

there are no more beautiful words

Waking upHow much sleep do you get each night?

Not enough I imagine….

Studies show that adults are in need of 7-9 hours of sleep every night.

Teenagers need 8.5-9.5 hours of uninterrupted rest.

And children require 10-14 hours a night to be 100%.

With how little we actually rest, compared to what is required, it’s no wonder so many are so tired.

When I was at the police department I had a friend that I worked nights with, who on his days off would stay up all day the first day, sleep at night the first night, but then stay up all the next day and then, all the next night (for over twenty-four hours).  Basically, he missed a night’s (or day’s) rest each week.  And he did this for years.  He went in to a doctor because he was not feeling well and told the doctor his sleeping pattern (or lack thereof).  The doctor told him that he had to get more rest.  There was no way around it.  Until he got enough sleep there would be no way he could feel like he was supposed to.  When he finally started getting enough rest he realized that he had really been walking around in a daze for years because his body and mind were so very tired.

Newborn BabyI wonder if you might be tired?  If you might be weary right now?  Maybe you find yourself depleted.  In a season of life that is extremely difficult.  Maybe you’re exhaustion comes from trying to spin too many plates.  Maybe, as the old folks say, “Your plow is loaded.”  Maybe you’ve been trying to do it all on your own but have come to the conclusion that what you’re doing is not working, and you’re simply tired.

When you are emotionally and spiritually exhausted, rest, rest in Christ is the only cure.  He persuades, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest“ – Matthew 11:28.

When you are tired.  When you are weary.  When you are depleted.  When you are exhausted.  There are no more beautiful words.

Glory to God!

Jason

perfectly content

Ignite Bulletin“When Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been put in prison, He returned to Galilee.  Leaving Nazareth, He went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali – to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Land of Zebulun and Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles – the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.’  From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.’” – Matthew 4:12-17 (cf. Isaiah 9:1-2)

The Jews didn’t have a very high opinion of Galilee, because of the large numbers of Gentiles who lived there.  Matthew desiring to communicate the universality of the Gospel, emphasizing that very reality, connects to the Isaiah text.  The Gentiles were not like them.  They were “in darkness.”  They were “living in the land of the shadow of death.”  But, quite frankly, most were perfectly content to leave them there.

CityHowever this is precisely where Jesus focuses His time.  His energy.  His efforts.  Jesus spent most of His public ministry north and west of the Sea of Galilee.  In the land of Zebulun and Naphtali.  His message?  “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near.”  A message of change.  That’s what repentance is.  A change of heart.  A change of way of life.  The Kingdom as a spiritual reality.  The reign and rule of God in the hearts and lives of those who will respond.

And so here’s my question for us as believers and as a church: Where do we focus our time?  Our energy?  Our efforts?  We invest a lot in one another, and we ought to.  We’re called to.  But are we ministering to the Zebuluns and Naphtalis around us?  Are we seeking to connect with those not like us?  Are we light dawning to those “in darkness” and “living in the shadow of death”?  Or are we, quite frankly, perfectly content to leave them there?

Glory to God!

Jason

you’re blessed when…

sermon on the mount

I say it often, and truly believe, if we would live the Sermon on the Mount our world would be turned upside down.  That you and I would be altogether incapable of external religiosity because of the inward attention the spiritual kingdom is given in these words of our Savior.  When our “righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees” in heart-filled adoration rather than pious observation it is then and only then that the words of His message come to life.

How do you understand the Beatitudes (the Blessings) with which Jesus begins the Sermon (Matthew 5:3-12)?  How would you write them in your own words in such a way as to impact you right where you are in life and in such a way that is current and relevant to the world in which you find yourself a part?

I love the way Eugene Peterson does this very thing, paraphrasing in The Message:

  • You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.  With less of you there is more of God and His rule.
  • You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you.  Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
  • You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are – no more, no less.  That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
  • You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God.  He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
  • You’re blessed when you care.  At the moment of being “care-full,” you find yourselves cared for.
  • You’re blessed when you get your inside world – your mind and heart – put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
  • You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
  • You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution.  The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
  • Not only that – count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me.  What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable.  You can be glad when that happens – give a cheer, even! – for though they don’t like it, I do!  And all heaven applauds.  And know that you are in good company.  My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

When we internalize the message of Christ and realize that He is speaking to us (and not just “them”), it is then that things begin to change for us.  It is then that He changes us.

Glory to God!

Jason

stubborn people, humble goats, and the Kingdom of God

stubborn coupleYou have to admit that we can be pretty stubborn sometimes.  Right?  Or at least, let me confess: “I can be pretty stubborn sometimes.”

Webster’s defines “stubborn” as: “inflexible, determined to have one’s own way.”  I wonder how often our unwillingness to be flexible or our determination to have things our own way has negatively impacted the relationships we share with others.  And I wonder, how our stubbornness has often undermined the God that we purport to belong to.

Rocks with a Small TreeWhat place does arrogance or stubbornness or inflexibility or the attitude of “my-way-or-the-highway” have in the Kingdom of God?  None.

Jesus says, “If someone wants to steal the shirt right of your back, willingly give the thief your coat as well.”  “And if someone manipulates you and coerces you into going a mile out of your way for their own selfish benefit, go even further for the sole purpose of Kingdom revealing” (Matthew 5:40-41 in my own words).

The Apostle Paul places it in these terms, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests (how selfish would that be), but look also to the interests of others.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2:4-5).

Egoism.  Stubbornness.  Inflexibility.  These are not the Kingdom.  The Kingdom is: “Righteousness.  Peace.  And joy in the Holy Spirit” (see Romans 14:17).

In any given situation you are not the most important person.  Neither am I.  Jesus is!

Stubbornness damages the Kingdom.  Every time.

goatDuring the Reformation of the 16th century Zwingli and Luther and had come to an impasse.  Both were perplexed as to how there could be unity between the two of them with their differences.  Until one day Zwingli observed two goats approaching one another from opposite directions on a treacherous, narrow mountain path.  A wall of rock on one side, and a thousand foot cliff on the other.  As they approached one another, the two goats lowered their heads, as though they were about to crash into one another, but then the one going up the mountain trail lay completely flat on the path and allowed the one descending the mountain to step on top of him.  After he had safely passed, the one who had humbled himself then continued his climb.

I wonder what you and I might learn from that?

Glory to God!

Jason